Despite common misconceptions, they’re not violent. Or crazy. And, no, they can’t just ‘get over it’. They’re your colleagues, sisters, best mates, celebs and Instagram stars.
Almost half – 45 per cent – of Australia’s population will experience a mental disorder during their lives, according to SANE Australia. And whether it’s OCD or anxiety or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, they all share one common challenge: stigma. “One of the problems with stigma is it leads to discrimination, so people might be judged and treated unfairly in a work situation, in a health situation, even in relationships,” says Dr Stephen Carbone, beyondblue’s policy, evaluation and research leader. “People might not give them a fair go because they’ve got unfair distorted beliefs about their condition.”
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People living with a mental illness report having experienced discrimination from medicos – in Mental Health Council of Australia research, 29 per cent of patients say they felt shunned by health professionals. And in the workplace – a study by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists found more than half of people with a diagnosis of mental illness had not been hired. When asked about their experiences in the workplace, 11 per cent reported being avoided and 14 per cent reported being discriminated against due to their mental illness. The result: people don’t end up dishing if they R NOT OK.
The more people who talk about their diagnoses, the more society will understand that a mental disorder doesn’t automatically preclude a successful career, good relationships or a happy life.
Of course, as WH learnt, ‘coming out’ isn’t always easy. If someone you know has a mental illness, you can offer support by doing the following.
Be supportive and listen. It is often difficult for them to open up about what they're going through, ask them what you can do to help them through tough times. Try to be specific and ask what they need and don’t need (“When I’m down, I just need someone to listen to me vent” or “Please don’t tell me not to worry so much”).
Get informed. Find out more about depression, it can also be useful to take a Mental Health First Aid class to recognise the signs, symptoms and challenges of mental illness. Learn how to talk about them and what you can do in a crisis. And that’s the goal: more knowledge, more awareness, more talking. Fewer misconceptions, less stigma, less discrimination.
Encourage them to get help from professionals. Heading to a GP is the first step - you could offer to go with them if they need extra support. If speaking with someone face-to-face is too confronting there are also online and email services (listed below) they can use.
Everyone is different and not all people will be ready to make changes straight away. Try not to pressure them, remain supportive by offering help when asked.
The onus isn’t just on people with a mental illness either – it’s going to take more than the people affected to create social change.
“People need to be more open-minded and willing to learn about conditions and understand them,” says Corbane. “And actually finding out from people who’ve got conditions what the experience has been like for them, so they can realise that, actually, you are no different from me.”
If you or anyone you know could be at risk of suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Experiencing symptoms of mental illness? See your doctor, or contact beyondblue (1300 22 4636) or SANE Australia (1800 18 SANE).